Special Focus Session UNICEF executive board on Africa’s Children
NEW YORK, 3 June 2014
H.E. Karel J.G. van Oosterom Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations during the Special Focus Session UNICEF executive board on Africa’s Children “The Promise of Global Partnership for Africa’s Children @CRC2039"
Her Royal Majesty, Mr. President, Mr. Lake, Your Excellencies,
It is a privilege to be here today, in the presence of so many eminent politicians from African countries, to discuss the biggest asset of Africa, its children. When we speak of Africa’s children, we speak of a unique group of individuals of varying cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds, united on one continent. They carry great potential that is waiting to be unleashed. The Netherlands warmly welcomes this focus session to draw attention to their development, rights and capabilities.
A lot has been achieved in the improvement of the development, health and protection of Africa’s children. Immunization programs against preventable diseases and widespread distribution of insecticide-soaked mosquito nets to protect children and pregnant women against malaria are just a few of the many accomplishments. Yet there is no room for complacency as many challenges remain. It is unacceptable that so many children under the age of fifteen are living with HIV/Aids, that mothers and children still die during pregnancy and child birth and that early and forced child marriage and female genital mutilation persist.
The Netherlands attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of children’s rights worldwide, in which we invest over 275 million Euros annually. We support the passionate endeavors undertaken in this area, by member states, by UN agencies such as UNICEF and UNFPA, and by NGOs and youth organizations that fulfil the important role of voicing the concerns of children.
Today I would like to emphasize three points; the importance of investing in adolescent girls, youth participation and inclusive economic growth.
Firstly, investing in adolescent girls is of paramount importance. Adolescent girls are the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, yet they face hardship and major challenges in realizing their full potential. Child marriage is a particularly heinous obstacle that creates and perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty and subjugation. Every year, approximately 10 million girls marry before the age of 18. They are more likely to become victims of violence, abuse and forced sex, and many do not survive an early pregnancy. This is an unacceptable reality and an enormous loss of potential. All girls have a right to learn and live healthy lives free from abuse and violence.
Secondly, we must not forget that children are not simply helpless victims, they are also the drivers of real change. Africa has the highest percentage of children in the world, and they carry great potential that must be unleashed. Therefore, we should not only talk about children, but especially with children. They know best what they need from their government and society to thrive and should be encouraged and enabled to participate fully and equally.
Third and final, Africa’s economy is rapidly growing, but its growth needs to be inclusive. We must support Africa to address its challenges. Investments in education, health and job creation are vital for Africa to benefit from its economic growth and its substantial youthful population. Inclusive economic growth requires empowering disadvantaged and excluded children by fighting child labour and ensuring equal access to education, nutrition, clean water, health care, comprehensive sexuality education and services. The role of UNICEF to support governments in doing so has been of tremendous value. UNICEF continues to lead the way on the issue of equity, which lies at the heart of the discussions around the new development framework.
Allow me to wrap up by looking ahead. Standing at the doorstep of the post-2015 development agenda, we must strive to ensure that Africa’s children will have the future they want. Food security, clean water, empowerment of women and girls, sexual and reproductive health and rights including HIV/Aids, peace and security, social protection and climate must be incorporated in the post-2015 development agenda. Anything less is a missed opportunity. In that connection, we strongly support the ECOSOC Youth Forum that is currently being held to give a voice to the concerns and needs of the youth in formulating the post-2015 agenda. We are convinced that investment in and involvement of youth is crucial for achieving peace, justice and development. Rest assured that the Netherlands will continue to support its partners to ensure that Africa’s children receive what they are entitled to: the future they want.